The romance of amaro

Odd Society’s Mia Amata is just the latest in BC’s bumper crop of the potable bitter. Dan Toulgoet photo

First there’s chocolate – dark and rich. Then spice—a whole caravan of exotic flavours and aromas from faraway lands. The bitterness lands next – astringent, clean, pleasantly mouthwatering. Throughout, delicate florals, dried fruits and an underlying sweetness keep everything in balance. There’s plenty to love about the new Mia Amata amaro from Odd Society Spirits, and not just because it counts Brazilian aphrodisiacs among its botanical makeup.

“I wanted to make it a modern-style bitter,” says Mia Glanz, the bartender who created it. “It took three years of work. I discarded an original recipe and started again.”

In European countries like Italy, France and Hungary, amaros have been enjoyed for centuries as an aperitif and digestif, straddling the fine line between medicinal and palatable. The name itself is Italian for “bitter,” and bitterness is indeed the defining characteristic. But amaros can also be sweet and fruity, spicy, herbaceous, floral and citrusy – a whole range of complex flavours captured in liqueurs, fortified wines or herbal spirits. Traditionally, they’re drunk as a shot after a big meal or as a sipper beforehand. But these days, they’re more likely to be used in a wide range of cocktails.

Bartenders love working with the deep complexity of amaros, and Vancouver bartenders love discovering high-quality local products. So it’s not much of a surprise that the Mia Amata sold out within a week of being launched back in February. (It should be back on the market now.) “A lot of bartenders really like it,” says Glanz.

And it’s just the latest in a collection of exceptional homegrown amaros that have hit the market in the last couple of years. The first was the citrus- and herbal-forward Amaro No. 1 Linnaeus from Vancouver’s Long Table Distillery, made in collaboration with the Apothecary Bitters Company. Last March, the grapefruity The Woods Amaro, from North Vancouver, was the surprise hit of the BC Distilled festival. Then, last summer, Goodridge & Williams Distilling launched three amaros under the BitterHouse label: the orange-flavoured aperitif LaDame, the Campari-like DaMan, and the rhubarb-scented Rubato.

Now they’re joined by Mia Amata.

For Glanz, making an amaro was a logical next step. Not only is she a double major in biology and anthropology (or ethnobiology) at the UBC, but she worked with her dad—Odd Society founder and distiller Gordon Glanz—as he developed his Wallflower gin and Bittersweet vermouth. “I helped my dad on the vermouth, so I know about proportions and ingredients,” she says. “The vermouth was a stepping point.

“Gin, vermouth and amaro fall on a continuum. Gin is lightly flavoured with botanicals. Vermouth is the next level of intensity—a wine base with 20, 30 botanicals. But amaro is pure alcohol that is macerated with as many as 40 botanicals. It’s a lot more botanical-rich than a vermouth.”

Glanz’s Mia Amata contains 35 botanicals, many of which she learned about during her studies. Among them are myrrh gum from Somalia, kola nut from West Africa, candied plum from Persia, mace from India, magnolias and elderflowers from BC, and aphrodisiacs from Brazil. The texture is similar to a liqueur, and there is a fair bit of sweetness underpinning the bitter botanicals.

“Of course, you can enjoy it on ice after a meal. You definitely want to have it after a meal, because it’s sweet and complex,” says Glanz. Alternately, you can swap out the amaro in your favourite classic cocktail and enjoy it that way.

“I really love amaros,” says Glanz. “They’re all so different, and it’s fun to guess what’s in them.”

Mia Amata retails at $22 for a 375 mL bottle at Odd Society Spirits Distillery and Tasting Lounge. Prices will vary at select private BC liquor stores.

—by Joanne Sasvari

Make Mia Glanz’s updated version of a Paper Plane.

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